Faculty readers on selection committees read hundreds of personal statements each year. Unfortunately, this overload causes many readers to dismiss statements that contain errors and overused diction and phrases. To help give your personal statement an edge, we have compiled a list of items to avoid.
- "Finally finding the specialty you loved by going through all your rotations and what you did not like in each one." You want to sound as positive as possible. This approach may sound as if you inevitably find something negative in every environment.
- Using examples or stories that are too emotional, graphic, or unpleasant. Even though medicine can be messy, readers may find that you are not using good judgment if you choose to use it or overstate it in a personal statement.
- Repeating your Curriculum Vitae. Highlight one or two things that clearly support your skills, abilities, or love of your career choice.
- Claiming that you want to volunteer for Doctors Without Borders after residency unless there is strong evidence of current or past international or selfless charitable work on your CV to back up this statement.
- Presenting your essay in a chronological format…try to be more creative.
- Referring to patients as “your” patients. What happened to the rest of the team?
- Using an example of all the extra time you spent with a patient and an emotional description of how much they appreciated you listening to them and spending time with them. It is wonderful that students take time to go the extra mile, but be careful that you give the rest of the team credit for their time and effort. Also, be aware (and/or let your reader know you are aware) that because your attending and residents are so busy with teaching, patient care and research, they do not have as much time to spend with patients.
- Using patient names or identifiers in your essay. Patient identities are always respected and the lack of awareness of that simplest of hospital rules is an indication of your readiness for working in the hospital environment and how much “babysitting” you will need.
- Overstating your participation in a research project or volunteer activity when a phone call explains otherwise or a look at your CV says you spent one day at the volunteer center.
- Using flattering adjectives to describe yourself in your essay. Let your letters of recommendation do that for you or let your energy and enthusiasm come through in how you write and what you write about. If you are a compassionate healer, it will come through in your essay.
- Giving excuses for not doing well in a course or on a USMLE exam. If you have a blemish on your record, keep it short and to the point. Say what you did to remedy the problem and that you have progressed through your curriculum without further problems. Many administrators suggest not addressing problems in your personal statement at all. There is a section in ERAS for addressing absences or problems in your medical education (see pages 15, 16 of the ERAS 2012 worksheet) that have affected your application.
- Having too much story and not enough about your abilities and skills (weave relevant skills into your story).
- Telling the faculty reader what is important about their specialty.
- Hearing the wrong message when faculty or residents recommend that you just submit a unique essay that makes you stand out. The risky “unique” essay may make you stand out for the wrong reasons. The essay should still be about you and make you stand out because it is interesting, mature, intelligent, and professional.
If you have gotten feedback from faculty that could help others in their quest to write exceptional personal statements, please offer up your suggestions here, especially if you have heard of personal statement aspects that they find particularly irritating that we should avoid.
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